Keeping Health Reform Coverage Fresh: Lessons From Top Journalists

Published on
June 10, 2010

It can be a slog, covering health reform's intricacies day in and day out. Fortunately, four top health journalists gathered today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to brief reporters on how they continue to find new angles, stay ahead of the curve and – perhaps most importantly – keep their editors interested. The briefing was geared toward Beltway reporters, but there was plenty of advice for regional journalists on localizing the rollout of federal health reform legislation.

Audio of the briefing, sponsored by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Alliance for Health Reform and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is now available online, and the Alliance has posted some valuable health reform reporting resources on its site. California journalists also should take note of a new California HealthCare Foundation report released today that examines how health reform will roll out in that state.

Here are 5 lessons I gleaned from participants Phil Galewitz of Kaiser Health News, Julie Rovner of NPR, Joanne Kenen of the New America Foundation and Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times.

1. Look for news pegs in health reform timelines. These timelines detail when various pieces of health reform legislation go into effect, when states must submit plans for insurance exchanges, even when Medicare doughnut hole checks are to be mailed to seniors (that would be starting today). This is a great place to start localizing stories. Two good timelines to check out: the Kaiser Family Foundation's Health Reform Implementation Timeline and the National Governors Association's Implementation Timeline for Federal Health Reform Legislation.

2. Follow the money #1. "A lot of programs are getting a lot of money over next five to six years that haven't gotten a lot of coverage," Phil Galewitz said, citing the National Health Service Corps and nursing education loan programs as examples. "How are those programs running now? How are medical groups, laboratories, doctors, hospitals strategizing to take advantage (of health reform dollars)? How are they going to make money off it?"

3. Follow the money #2. Federal agencies like the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will be establishing the ground rules for implementing health reform in reams of regulations in the next few years. Who is trying to influence that process? What money is involved?

4. Is your state prepared? What capacity does your state have to make sure health reform's rollout goes smoothly? Will your state have its own health insurance exchange? How will it communicate with residents? How generous are your state's current Medicaid and SCHIP benefits compared to other states? How will your state's budget deficit affect planning for health reform?

5. Examine health reform's prospects for success. If, after years of debate, lawmakers still can't agree on a "Medicare payment fix" for threatened cuts in reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients, what does that say about reforming the overall way we pay for health care in this country? There's a disconnect – we're seeing the Senate struggle with this fix at same time we're supposed to be creating new payment systems (and savings)," Rovner said.